Thursday, December 4, 2014

Sustaining our Woods:

by Richard de Wilde

Our primary focus is producing top quality vegetables for our thousands of customers throughout the Midwest region. Our silt loam valley fields are prime land for vegetable production with rich soils mixed with sand and silt loam deposited in this valley over thousands of years. Our tillable land for vegetable production on the land we own is about 40 acres, however our total property is about 500 acres. There are another 60 acres of hillside fields that were tilled in the late 1800’s, sometimes with disastrous erosion problems. These have since been converted to pastures for grazing animals. This is a much more appropriate use for the land and helps to prevent invasive plants such as prickly ash, multiflora rose, sumac and unwanted trees from taking over. Beyond vegetable ground and pasture, we still have over 400 acres of woods that are not suitable for either vegetables or animals.

Armando logging on the hillsides surrounding our farm.
So just what do we do with all of this wooded land? Unfortunately, we pay a high tax rate for this land based on ‘recreational value’, ie, deer hunting, bird watching, mushroom hunting and just enjoying nature. Our other option is to put the land into a “managed forest” program through the DNR. This would significantly decrease our taxes, however this program would require us to conform to a plan which dictates when trees will be harvested every 10 to 15 years. It is assumed that we will hire a logging company to come in and cut down the trees when indicated. While the logging company does have some obligation to seed down the logging roads they need to access the trees, their interest is in removing the best timber which is most saleable. So what remains when they are done? The crooked, storm damaged or diseased trees are left behind. This is not a recipe for forest improvement, but a huge taxpayer subsidy of the large scale forest industry! In addition, the amount of money the landowner receives for the logs that are removed is only about 1% of the value of the lumber when it is sold as a finished product to the consumer. The bottom line is you will never get enough return from selling standing timber to cover the tax liability, pay for the land and compensate for the time spent managing the woods over time in order to maintain a healthy woods and produce more “good” lumber-quality trees (ie removing undesirable trees). At present, we have about 80 acres of woods that is in the managed forest program, while we manage the remaining 320 acres ourselves.

Manuel and Nano Morales stacking wood
Over the past three years we have been selectively logging and cutting down trees that are too close
to our fields or were left from previous logging. We have tried to put this resource to use by using much of the wood for firewood to fuel clean-burning stoves which heat as many as 6 buildings on our farm. We also saved 15,000 board feet of lumber that, after kiln drying, was made into paneling and flooring that we were able to use in our new home. We have a great satisfaction in ‘knowing’ the trees that became our house! We learned a lot in the process and want to continue to sustainably manage our woods well into the future. However, our on-farm needs for wood are limited in comparison to the amount of this resource available to us. Thus, we are now considering options that would make this resource available in a variety of ways to many of our customers who may also have a use for wood. Perhaps you are considering building a home or have a remodeling project and would like to use wood for flooring, paneling to cover walls or ceilings, cabinets, or furniture. You could quite literally choose the trees that would end up in your new house, addition or room. If you are planning a project and are interested in wood products, give us a call and we can send you samples of wood, paneling and flooring.

Richard preparing to haul a load of freshly
sawed board to the kiln to be dried.
Sawing logs into boards at Harmony Valley Farm. 
We are planning to build our own solar kiln this spring, which would allow us to kiln dry our own lumber instead of having to haul it to a kiln for drying. This fall we cut down quite a few ash trees that died as a result of the emerald ash borer. We’re hoping to turn some of this into lumber that could be used for building projects, furniture, doors, etc. As we look into the future, we know we will have many more ash trees that will soon succumb to the invasive ash borer and need to be harvested. In addition, we have several varieties of oak, cherry and walnut that will need to be removed to make room for new growth. We would like to turn some of this wood into interesting and unique products such as cutting boards, cheese and bread boards, bowls, wooden kitchen utensils and wine bottle stoppers, all finished with beeswax and organic oils safe for use with food. We have some of these types of products made for us by family members and friends and really cherish their uniqueness in our own home. In our end-of-the-year survey, we will be asking you about your interest in this endeavor and value your feedback as we explore this opportunity. Other options we are considering for adding value to this resource includes deliveries of firewood brought right to your home, cut, stacked and ready to load into your wood stove or fireplace.

It is exciting to learn more about this valuable, beautiful natural resource that we are blessed to have on our property. Our goal is to preserve and care for our woods well into the future and set the precedent for the generations of caretakers of this land that will follow in our footsteps. We have a lot of logistics to explore and many more details to work out, but we’re excited to see what the future may hold.

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